Everyone’s metric for a “reasonable” occasion for tears is different, but there is one commonality — if there is a reasonable time to cry, there’s also an unreasonable time.
You probably have a metric yourself, if you really think about it…
Death of a loved one? Definitely. Let go from your job? Shed a few tears, it’s okay. Going through a breakup? Most of us agree that’s as good a time as any for tears.
What about frustration? What about generalized depression? What about joy? What about feeling nervous? What about triggering a trauma? What about having a nice memory? What about feeling overwhelmed? When you see something cute? What about when you receive a nice surprise?
Some people have more heightened emotional or sensory awareness than others. Sometimes hormonal shifts cause the floodgates to open. Sometimes, you just care so much your body can’t handle it — like Amy Stanton, author of The Feminine Revolution talks about in her book and on my podcast. (Check it out, she’s a truly rebellious thinker.)
Her thesis is that this perceived weakness is actually sourced from strength and dedication, and that society’s reaction to it is the real problem.
And through scientific examination, we find that the healing properties of tears speak for themselves.
Because although emotional crying evolved in humans as an attachment behavior, to alert those around us we’re in distress, it boasts a lot of biological and personal benefits in and of itself.
Let’s have a break down about crying…
Tears Relieve Stress — Literally
We all know intrinsically that having a good cry can help calm you down when you’re worked up.
But there’s a reason for that.
When you cry emotional tears, as opposed to basal (the kind of tears your body is constantly producing to keep your eyes lubricated) and reflex (the kind of tears you cry when in contact with smoke, or onions, or wind), those tears contain stress hormones.
Researchers have found that by allowing those stress hormones an exit path out of the body, the body responds by lowering its stress signals. After all, if there are fewer stress hormones, there’s less stress.
Turns out there is something to “crying it all out.”
Not to mention that crying has been proven to lower blood pressure and pulse rate.
Tears Promote Self-Soothing Chemicals
Crying releases the same “feel good” chemicals as cuddling — oxytocin and endogenous opioids, like endorphins.
The sort of numb, tired feeling you experience after crying? That’s actually a physical response. Those chemicals are relieving physical pain in your body as well as boosting your mood and giving you a sense of serenity and peace.
It’s yet another example of the body knowing what it needs without external assistance — you need pain relief and to be in a better mood, so your body tells you to cry. And if you let yourself cry…
You’re a whole lot likelier to start feeling better.
Tears Reduce Manganese
Manganese is a mineral in the body that causes stress, anxiety, irritability, and aggression when its levels are high.
It is found in higher levels in emotional tears than in reflex tears. In fact, emotional tears contain 24% more albumin protein concentration, which means smaller molecules have a chance to travel through emotional tears.
When you cry, and manganese is slowly leaked out of your body through your tears, your body’s manganese levels return to a manageable state and the previous emotional boiling point returns to a simmer.
Super crucial, right?
Tears Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System
We talk a lot about resting and digesting.
Well, that’s what the parasympathetic nervous system does — it facilitates resting and digesting.
Activating the PNS through tears means that the PNS is acting as a mediator. By increasing its activity and performing more work inside the body, it’s trying to regulate your mood in response to the distress signal you’re sending out (crying, increased heart rate, less breath to your lungs, etc.)
The PNS can even help to deactivate areas of the brain that are associated with assessing threat levels, to help bring the heightened emotional state back to homeostasis.
Tears Kill Bacteria and Keep Eyes Lubricated
Think of how often you touch things in the world and then how often you touch your eyes.
Thanks to an element contained in tears called “lysozyme,” which kills 95% of germs in five to 10 minutes, the eyes of a regular weeper stay relatively free from germs.
Not only that, but there’s a reason basal tears are necessary. Our eyes need to stay moist. Dry eyes are irritated and itchy, and can eventually impair vision.
Regular crying certainly couldn’t hurt!
Crying developed as a biological response to pain. And to pretend that humans aren’t sentient creatures who feel pain, by insisting that everyone keep their tears to themselves, is to miss the point of this whole life-thing.
Not only is crying good for your immediate emotional state, it’s beneficial for your wellbeing in the long run. Its chemical properties assist your body in regulating distress, but also…
Learning to cry is a skill that lends itself to two necessary functions of humanity — empathy and connection. Ask for help. Give help when it’s needed.
And don’t forget — sometimes, you really do just need a good cry.
Editor’s note: If you or a loved one have been crying more than normal, you may be experiencing emotional trauma. This type of pain and anxiety can seriously impact your life and overall happiness. If you’d like real knowledge about how to confront deep-seated emotional pain, please join Dr. Pedram Shojai for a FREE talk about how to move past this pain. Click here for all the details and to sign up. It’s free.